Writing without writers

Written by Christopher Valentino

Copy is the soul of any yearbook. It has the ability to reawaken the reader’s own memories and can foster a deeper connection between the reader and the events of the year. It can expand theme beyond the physical properties of design and, most importantly, can turn a good yearbook into a great yearbook.

Some staffs are devoid of dedicated writers and have regulated copy to languish in mediocrity. Even if your staff loathes the written word and your copy editor jumped ship, it is still possible for your publication to have wonderful writing.

No writers, no problem. Honors English classes are full of students eager to write. Ask the English and literature teachers for five minutes to address their classes and you might end up with several volunteers. Sweeten the deal by deducting $10 off the price of their yearbooks for every article published.

Writers do not have to be in yearbook. Copy does not require InDesign or Photoshop; all it takes is an active mind and plenty of paper. Non-staff writers can provide great articles for your book without forcing them to commit to an entire class.

No copy editor? Find the best responsible writer in Honors English and offer him or her a prestigious title, a free yearbook and a photo in the colophon. Your new copy editor does not need to attend every editorial meeting. All he needs to do is write and edit.

Do not be afraid to experiment. Copy can take the form of poems, essays or streams of consciousness. Just be sure that the copy connects with readers.

Develop good reporting. The easier it is for the freelance writer, the better. Have staff members conduct in-depth interviews, take notes at events and gather facts, and then give everything, in well-written format, to the writer.

Freelancers can report, too. Some freelancers may want to conduct their own interviews. Create a pamphlet with reporting and interviewing tips. Editors who want to give a little more instruction should consult The Radical Write by Bobby Hawthorne or Walsworth’s The Yearbook Suite, Set 5 – Writers.

Keep theme copy in house. Staff members, usually editors, who came up with the theme should write the theme copy. A trusted freelance writer could assist if needed. Remember, theme copy should tie all aspects of the book together.

Broad copy is bad copy. Copy should rekindle the memories of the reader through details and specificity. Avoid general statements like “Prom was fun!” Ask questions that illicit detailed statements. Instead of asking, “What was the best part of prom?” say, “Describe the most magical moment of the night in detail.”

Let the ink dry. Proofreading is a critical part of the writing process and it is imperative to reread copy before submission. There can be nothing worse than opening to your theme page and seeing a typo in the first sentence.

Copy differentiates good yearbooks from great books and can reconnect readers with their own experiences better than photos or design. Never just settle for ink on the page – turn your copy into the real star of the yearbook.

Christopher Valentino